Thousands gather to celebrate Indigenous culture at Squamish Nation Youth Powwow
New royalty crowned, dance champions celebrated, lost relatives honoured at 32nd annual event
Thousands visited the Squamish Nation's Elders Centre in West Vancouver this past weekend for the nation's 32nd annual Youth Powwow.
The three-day event featured food, vendors, dance, and the crowning of this year's powwow princesses.
Six-year-old Terrena Charlie and nine-year-old Tal-leya Baker Lewis were chosen to represent their nation until next year's event.
Appointing young royalty for the year is an important part of Squamish Nation tradition.
Francis James, the event's MC, explains that royalty is earned by young people who demonstrate an eagerness to be involved in their culture and tradition.
Terrena and Tal-leya represent the beginning of the journey for a young Squamish person, a journey that most of their family members went through when they were younger as well.
Jessica Baker, whose family started the Squamish Nation Youth Powwow, has been involved since she was seven years old.
She believes that the powwow is a crucial resource for First Nations youth because it encourages them to be engaged in their culture and, in doing so, away from drugs and alcohol.
One of the main pillars of culture is food — and thanks to Baker's father, the powwow is well catered.
Wilfred Baker is in charge of cooking the salmon for the entire three-day event, helping to feed the thousands of visitors.
But the biggest draw for most people who attend the powwow is the dance competition.
This year, Mikayla Seto won second place in the women's jingle competition.
She and her friends explained the importance of the beautiful dance regalia.
"The regalia is sacred … when you take care of your outfit, your outfit will take care of you," Seto said.
Another dancer, Rebecca Sangwais, learned to do beading for moccasins at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, where she developed a skill for creating her own regalia.
Even so, it took two years to make the pieces she wears to dance.
Although there are prizes involved in the powwow, Sangwais explains that dancers are not taught to be competitive against each other.
"You're dancing for yourself … it's the dancer versus the drum, not against another dancer," she said.
Carl Potter, who has danced and drummed his whole life, describes dancing as "a way of life."
This year's powwow was especially significant for Potter because of a memorial that took place for his nephew Joshua Potter, who died four years ago aged 28.
On Sunday, Potter and his family spoke about their lost loved one to the crowd, who, in turn, lined up to shake the family's hands and offer their condolences.
Potter wasn't competing on the weekend, but he wore regalia to honour his nephew, who helped him make some of the items.
The powwow offers a healing environment, a place where people can come together to express their grief as well as their joy.
One of the many joyful events — and the last dance at the powwow — was the Potato Dance.
The event concluded with the announcement of the winners from each dance category.
The new princesses shake hands with each winner — their first royal duty of the year.